Acting out, Couple share professional experience

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By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

For Nika Tipsword, returning to Northeast Iowa has been a double homecoming: She’s living again in her hometown, Guttenberg, and she’s re-engaged with the Opera House Players, the theater group that years ago sparked an interest in the stage, an interest that’s become her life’s work.

Making her return even sweeter is the fact that she’s now married and her husband, Jason Tipsword, shares her passion and talent for theater work.

“My very first costuming experience was here at the Opera House. It was something that really helped me years later with a massive senior project at the University of Iowa,” she said, adding that she reorganized and catalogued all of the hats, shoes and other accessories used in UI productions. Later, the boxes she lovingly and carefully packed and labeled were shipped to various locations throughout Iowa City after the university’s performing arts center was flooded. Later still, she was reminded of her work in a phone conversation with Jason, who was already her husband.

“He was working security at the time and called to ask me if I’d ever labeled a box ‘women’s heels, spiked, in blue,’” Nika continued. “I knew that I had but I didn’t think he knew that. It turns out he was moving boxes and recognized my handwriting on one of them.”

Nika and Jason, who grew up on the Illinois side of the Quad Cities and also in Iowa City, are sharing their talents with the OHP. Last Saturday, Nika offered an audition clinic (more on that later) and Jason has been working with actors in the upcoming production of “Moon Over Buffalo.” He’s uniquely qualified to work on this show because he’s staged it five different times. Working on the slapstick comedy was his “second professional gig.”

“Moon Over Buffalo” opens Friday, April 10, at the Elkader Opera House. Performances are also scheduled for April 11 and 12, and April 16-18. The play tells the story of two traveling actors, George and Charlotte. George’s part is exceptionally physical and involves a mock fencing match with Charlotte, a wrestling match with another character, and some stunt falls. Jason has been working with the cast on swashbuckling and fighting scenes.

“Well, the first priority in teaching sword play is keeping the actors safe,” Jason said. “Nothing ruins a show quite as much as paramedics rushing the stage. After that, it’s all about getting enough repetitions to learn to control the sword and use it in a realistic way.”

“In the fight scenes, we’re teaching movements that don’t come naturally,” he continued. “Again, we want everyone to be safe but we also want the movements to be real.”

While Nika’s audition clinic doesn’t impact the current production, it could have a pay-off for the fall musical, “Shrek.” It wasn’t conceived as preparation for the “Shrek” auditions, though several of the youngsters who participated in the clinic said they’d like to earn a spot in the show.

“I left here not knowing what a valuable audition model is,” explained Nika. “So one of the things I wanted to do when we came back was to offer actors an opportunity to get the tools they’d need to operate on a grander scale, to know, for example, what’s involved in an audition monologue and how to approach a director, those sorts of things.”

Nika used different acting exercises in the clinic to address what she refers to as the five pillars of acting: physicality, emotional state, vocal intent, vulnerability and mentality. 

“These are words that I’ve brought together from things I’ve learned from my acting teachers,” she explained, adding that a game of tag is one way to teach all five “pillars.”

In addition to their theater work, Nika and Jason have other jobs. She’s a customer service representative with an information technology company and he’s a carpenter with a Guttenberg firm. Jason also does freelance theatrical work. Both are involved in the wider Iowa theater scene but the Elkader Opera House is quickly becoming a favorite venue.

“I’ve worked in lots of theaters and it’s really, really a joy to find what I’ve found here,” Jason said. “A good volunteer theater is one of the happiest places to be. All of the drama is on the stage.”

Nika concurs: “In this business, people talk about a theatrical home. I’ve worked with lots of companies but I’ve never been a part of one that I felt like I could be with forever. I feel that way coming up here, though. I feel like I’ve found where I’m suppose to be.”

Tickets for “Moon Over Buffalo” are available at Moser Pharmacy, Elkader; by phone, 563-873-2378; or by email to tickets@csbbs.com

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